Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Summer Forecast: Expectations for Green
By Chris Forsberg
Chuck Cook/US PresswireLet’s start with the obvious here: Jeff Green (still) isn’t formally a member of the Boston Celtics. Yes, his deal has been termed imminent since early July and, yes, a month later, there’s still wrinkles to be ironed out.
Jeff Green will be back, but will he be better than ever?
What exactly those hurdles are isn’t clear, but those close to the situation have hinted that its simply contract language, something that’s slightly more difficult after Green missed all of last season due to a heart ailment.
That said, neither the Celtics nor Green’s camp have given any reason to believe that a deal won’t eventually be consummated -- and neither seems in a particular rush to finish it up. Green attended an introductory press conference last month and hasn’t shied away from talking about his excitement to play for the Celtics next season.
But here’s one reason his contract is truly noteworthy: Whenever this deal is finalized, it’s expected to be the biggest total payday the Celtics hand out this offseason with a reported four-year pact at a value of upwards of $9 million per season. With a deal like that, Boston is essentially committing to Green as a core member of their future (a four-year deal would run longer than even the three years remaining on Rajon Rondo's current deal).
In the glimpse we got at the end of the 2010-11 season, Green proved to be exactly the player he was with Oklahoma City (look at his stats per 36 minutes, they are nearly identical). To some, that wasn’t good enough. The question is whether he’s capable of more, and whether having a strong supporting cast will allow him to flourish in Boston.
Our expectations? Jason Terry may have the sixth man tag, but Green absolutely must be the most important supplementary piece to Boston’s core. Even coming off the bench, he must emerge as a consistent contributor, the type that can help carry Boston when veterans like Paul Pierce struggle.
The Celtics have to figure out how to properly harness his versatility, exploiting his size against smaller 3s and (carefully) moving him to the 4 in smaller lineups (Green has struggled mightily against post-up 4s, but can blanket smaller wings). Boston needs to find lineups that bring out the most in his skill set. But ultimately it's on Green to show he's capable of more than we saw in that brief post-trade glimpse.
The encouraging side is that Green will only turn 26 next month. Even after sitting out last season, he's still got four years of experience under his belt (two playoff trips) and he's still young enough to make another leap. The Celtics are hoping he can blossom into a true impact player.
What we'd like to see: More aggression all over the court. He needs to be a stronger rebounder, a more tenacious defender, and he needs to be on full tilt when running in transition. You can see the ability to be a game-changer and, now that he's healthy, Green needs to show it on the floor.
Read on to see our panel predictions.
All indications from Green and everyone else associated with him (his agent, Danny Ainge, etc.) are that he's poised to return better than before, and the Celtics will need that to be true. Maybe it was unfair to really critique Green's game for the half season he was initially here for prior to his heart ailment. Whatever the case, the C's need him to be a consistent scorer, rebounder, and quality defender off the bench. It's as simple as that. I don't know if there's any sort of "leap" for Green to still make, but he has to cement himself as a player Boston can rely upon. That's the most important thing, bottom line. Right now he's the only real backup the team has for Paul Pierce, and I'd be willing to bet Doc Rivers will want to scale back Pierce's minutes a bit this season, which will only put a brighter spotlight on Green. No one can doubt Green's natural abilities and physical gifts -- the Celtics just need those things to translate to points, rebounds, and, most importantly, wins. If Green can do that, not only will he be one of the better backup small forwards in the league, but he'll team with the likes of Jason Terry and Chris Wilcox to comprise a pretty formidable second unit.
In an ideal world, flipping Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green would have gone down as Danny Ainge's fourth greatest achievement as a GM, behind the Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen offseason, making the draft-night trade for Rajon Rondo, and signing Jermaine O'Neal for two years at the full mid-level exception (OK, one of those moves was not good). Unfortunately, Green struggled to gel with the Celtics at the end of 2011 and missed last season after undergoing surgery for an aortic aneurysm. The hope this season is that the Celtics have a young, athletic small forward to back up Paul Pierce. I'm here to temper those expectations. The truth is that Green has never been particular effective at playing the small forward position. In Green's last two full seasons, he posted a PER lower than league average for small forwards (albeit in limited minutes). The good news is that Green has also limited his small forward opponent's production to a PER around league average. At best, the increase in minutes at the small forward position will prove that Green was originally miscast as an undersized power forward. At worst, he'll be an athletic wing defender able to run with Rajon Rondo. I expect he'll be somewhere in the middle.
I'm expecting a lot from Green and that's because Danny Ainge seemingly outbid the entire NBA with the reported four-year contract valued somewhere around $32-36 million. I'm begging anyone to show me a rumor that involved another team willing to give Green anything close to the deal he's supposed to sign in Boston. Let's move on to the facts. Green struggled mightily in the 26 games he played for Boston in 2011. He was passive and out of sync. Last season was supposed to be his redemption, but he was forced to have heart surgery. Fortunately, all signs point to Green being heart healthy this year. There might be some rust, but he'll shake it off in camp. For the Celtics to make another deep playoff run, Green must contribute consistent offense (15-17 points per game) off the bench. I think he can do that. The real questions about Green come in the next two to three years -- as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett fade, is Green capable of carrying the torch? Yikes.
My first expectation, and the only one in which I'm confident, is that Green will one day officially sign with the Boston Celtics. From there, my expectations for the 6-foot-9 forward become a dizzying combination of hopes, fears, doubts, underwhelming advanced statistics and impressive dreams. Green possesses the talent, skill and athletic makeup to become Boston's small forward of the future. He could blossom into a franchise cornerstone capable of running with Rajon Rondo, scoring from inside or out, and defending two or three positions. The problem is that he's never actually produced at a level deserving of his reported (and rumored, and one day maybe even official) contract. Green rarely, if ever, enters Kevin Garnett's patented "bar fight mode" and he plays with all the aggression of a monk. Sadly enough, Green's presence on the court has a troubling history of making his teams worse. That doesn't mean he's hopeless. At the very least, the Georgetown product provides the Celtics with an athletic reserve who can fill a number of different roles depending on what the team needs. He's capable, perhaps, of much more. That "perhaps" could haunt him for the duration of his time in Boston or it could vanish into a cloud of awesomeness. I vote for the latter.
Your turn: What are your expectations for Jeff Green? Sound off in the comments.